by Ron Russo

My mother is dying of cancer, and she’s losing ground quickly. It’s 1979, and there aren’t the radical treatments for advanced cancer that are available today. Other than a blood transfusion to “boost her up,” there isn’t much the doctors can do.

I never expected Mom to die before my father, so quickly and so young – – seventy-one. Dad mopes and cries when he thinks she’s not looking, and is constantly trying to feed her; this is an annoyance, as she simply cannot eat.

On a Friday night, I’m at my friend Annie’s apartment talking about this. “I dread going to visit tomorrow. I don’t even know what to talk about. The whole thing is so futile,” I say, holding back a sob. When I cry these days, it lasts for a long time, so I fight the urge.

“I’ll come with you tomorrow if you like,” Annie says, putting the finishing touches on a newly rolled joint. “Here, smoke some of this.”

I don’t enjoy smoking lately; if the high kicks in wrong, it exacerbates my sadness. But tonight I feel that I need something, so I take a hit. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” Annie says.


“Well, you know they’re starting to use marijuana to induce appetite in cancer patients, right? Why don’t we bake some brownies and bring them to your mother tomorrow?”

“Are you fucking crazy?” I say. “You want me to dose my own mother?”

“Well, why not?” Annie responds. “Open your mind, act like you went to college. What possible harm could it do?”

“You’re serious,” I say, incredulous.

“Yes, I am. The worst that could happen is that she eats a brownie, catches a little buzz, feels better, gets the munchies. Even gets a little energy. Or nods out and has a good sleep. What’s wrong with that?” I pause to consider her argument. Indeed, she has a point. But still, could I, a twenty-eight year old Italian American Catholic actually get my mother high, regardless the circumstances? Annie catches my hesitation and presses onward. “Here’s what we’ll do,” she says. “I’ll bake brownies tonight; I’ve got a mix in the pantry and tons of pot. In fact, I’ll even call your mother and tell her I’d like to visit tomorrow. You know she’d never say no to me. I’ll tell her I’m baking something special for her, and she’ll feel obligated to try a little.”

“I can’t believe it, but you’re making sense. Distorted sense, but nonetheless . . .”

“Believe me, this is a good idea. Leave it to me,” Annie says, heading to the phone before I can change my mind.

The date is made, the brownies are in the oven baking but I’m already baked, calm for the first time in a week. “Sleep here tonight,” Annie says. “Don’t disturb yourself.” Relieved at not having to be alone, I drowsily accept.

The next day I’m nervous as we drive to my parents. Annie is holding the devil-tray of brownies, and I once again have doubts. “I can’t really do this,” I tell her.

“Shut up and park; there’s a spot,” she says, and we’re on our way.

Up the one flight of stairs, and there’s my frail mother waiting. Kisses, hugs, thanks and more thanks to Annie for the goodies. “You have to eat one, Edith,” she says, and Mom replies, “I’ll try.”

My father gets the coffee going and puts the brownies in the oven for a quick warming. The doorbell rings. My mother’s friend Florence is arriving for a visit. Florence is a kind, cheerful woman who’s been a great help to my mother during her illness. Florence weighs in at around two fifty, two seventy five, so her nose is twitching as she enters the kitchen. “What smells so good?”

“Annie baked for me,” my mother says proudly. “Brownies.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that someone other than my mother might try the brownies; my father, for example. And now Florence. I give Annie the “I’ll kill you later” look, and she gazes away, flushing.

The rattle of cups and plates fills the kitchen, Florence at the helm. “You sit and relax, Edith, I’ll set the table.” As she clumps to and from the pantry, the floor shakes.

Coffee is served, the brownies displayed on a pretty platter. My mother looks at them and half-heartedly puts one on her plate. Florence nabs a big one; my father, not slim by any means, grabs another. I take my lead from Annie, who reaches in for one. “Join the crowd” she says to me, and I figure what the hell.

Mom pushes the brownie around on her plate. She cuts it in half; cuts the halves into quarters; lifts a forkful of crumbs to her mouth and can barely manage to swallow them. “Delicious,” she says to Annie.

Florence, on the other hand, is already going for number two. My father is close at her heels. “I didn’t know you baked, Annie,” Dad says. Florence, who is both a good cook and a master baker, says “These are good. You’ll have to give me the recipe.”

The minutes click by slowly at first, and my guts are in a coil. Suddenly, I realize that nearly an hour has passed. Florence is chatting animatedly, and my father is laughing for the first time in three months. Mom, although she hasn’t eaten any more, is swept up by the mood, and she’s smiling and chatting also. Annie has to elbow me to get my attention; I’m so lost in my observations. And high: I’m definitely high. “Another brownie?” she asks, lifting the platter and passing it to me. What the hell.

We stay for three hours, and it’s the best time I’ve experienced throughout my mother’s illness. Florence tries to get us to stay for dinner, volunteering to cook, endlessly listing the foods she can quickly prepare. But I don’t want to be there when everyone’s buzz wears off; the exhilaration could easily drop to a depressing low. When I get up to leave, Florence follows suit, and my mother declares that she’s going to have a nap.

As soon as we get into the car, Annie says, “See? I told you it would work out.”

“Are you kidding?” I counter. “I nearly had a heart attack when my father and Florence started attacking those brownies. Didn’t you ever figure that someone other than my mother would try them?” I ask.

“Didn’t you?” Annie responds.

We look at each other and burst into laughter. I welcome this momentary escape from the sadness I feel. I know that the hardest times are yet to come.

The End


I am motivated and inspired to keep writing by the members of the Memoir class, especially our coordinators, Leyla and Carmen.  Many thanks.